city with data (jamesteohart/

Data collaborations help build smarter cities

Finding the resources to invest in data sharing programs can be challenging, but the results can make a large impact, according to experts at the Center for Data Innovation's Dec. 5 Data Innovation Day.

Washington, D.C., officials are ahead of the curve with programs such as the Pennsylvania Ave 2040 initiative that deploys smart sensors and public safety tools across the district and the Lab @ DC program that helps agencies use open data to craft policy. To help coordinate these efforts, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a comprehensive data policy in April to facilitate data sharing. Data sharing pilot projects conducted by the Lab @ DC, are helping improve rodent abatement and improve trash pickup efficiency.   

Smaller cities can be constrained by budget issues, but they can get funding from the federal government and private institutions.  Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities Initiative, for example, is a national program that helps mid-sized cities enhance their use of  data to improve services and inform local decision-making.

Andel Koester, associate director of What Works Cities, said all cities can extract insights from their data and smart technologies. Larger issues such as homelessness, however, require common data standards and a wider scope to collect the state and regional level information.

“A lot of the foundational work can be common and shared across cities," Koester said.  But  because cities also deal  with issues that fall outside their borders, they "need open data policies as a common framework … which isn’t as shiny or exciting as putting out a kiosk or app, but it is sustainable.”  

Preston Reed, senior director of external affairs at Verizon Smart Communities, agreed, adding that collaboration among cities also will help them prepare for the higher bandwidth demands required for autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. As demand increases, cities should consider adding add micro- and small-cell infrastructure to respond to increased data demands, he said.

When government departments work together, Reed said, they can create economies of scale to drive these kinds of solutions. 

When it comes to building out the infrastructure, Krucoff said there are opportunities for the federal government to help, but he said he hopes federal funds won’t restrict the interactions between the city’s transportation, health and education agencies.

“There was a flood of money that came in from the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 that helped to fund a lot of good projects," he said, "but it also created chaos by giving [cities] the ability to do whatever they wanted.”

Now funding comes with restrictions that have helped facilitate data sharing.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for example, gave the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration funds to close the digital divide and map broadband connectivity across the nation.  To qualify for the grants, Krokoff said, applicants were required to submit information to “map to a specific data standard.”

“If the money comes with resources and the capability to build infrastructure across sectors, then it is okay for the federal government to ask for specific information,” Krucoff said.  

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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